Ah, the age-old question: How often should you shower? When it comes to health basics, everyone wants to know if there’s a magic number. (See: How often should you pee? How much water should you drink every day? What’s the absolute minimum you can swing with flossing? Ad infinitum.) Sometimes you really can land on a concrete numerical answer in response to a health question, but other times, it’s not that simple. Answering that pressing shower question falls into the latter category.
Dermatologists don’t universally agree on how often you should shower.
“The main reason that we shower is to wash away sweat and dead skin cells, remove dirt and debris, and prevent things like body odor,” Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. All of this is based on your natural tendencies towards oiliness, sweating, and B.O., as well as your daily activity and environment. So, naturally, the “right” showering frequency varies from person to person.
With that said, there’s a pretty clear dermatological consensus that showering or bathing every day isn’t necessary for most people. The idea of needing to shower every 24 hours to maintain good personal hygiene is more of a societal norm some people subscribe to than a biological imperative, Emily Newsom, M.D., a dermatologist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells SELF. In fact, many of us are probably showering more than we need to, Dr. Stevenson says.
Generally, most people only really need to take a few showers a week.
Dr. Stevenson suggests two to three showers a week for the average person. Melissa Piliang, M.D., a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF something similar: Every two or three days. It really just depends on your lifestyle and natural tendencies towards oiliness, sweating, and B.O.
Obviously, if you work up a sweat at the gym every day, you may want to shower every day. Same with people who are exposed to strong chemicals or odors on the job (like in a factory or fast food kitchen) or people who get dirty or exert themselves physically while working outdoors.
Season and climate play a role, too, Dr. Newsom points out. The same person who showers every day during a hot, humid summer, may opt for once every two days during a cold, dry winter.
If you prefer to shower every day, that’s totally OK as long as you’re doing it the right way for your skin and overall health.
“For most people, a daily shower is fine provided they avoid aggressive bathing practices,” Dr. Piliang says. Yes, it’s possible to bathe aggressively.
Regularly taking excessively long showers or baths is one potential problem, since that can strip away natural oils from your skin’s lipid barrier, the fatty outer layer that keeps moisture in and irritants and allergens out. This can cause dryness and irritation. Consider capping it at about 10 minutes (especially if you have dry skin), and be sure to replenish your skin with moisturizer afterward.
Another good shower habit? Saying no to extremely hot water and harsh soaps, both of which can strip away the natural oils that make up that essential lipid barrier. Instead, Dr. Piliang says, opt for warm water and gentle cleansers formulated without ingredients like fragrances or sodium lauryl sulfate, a sudsing agent that can pull oil out of the skin. Looking for products formulated for people with sensitive skin can help point you in the right direction.
Even if you’re using the gentle stuff, you really only need to soap up a few places on your body, Dr. Newsom says. That includes your armpits and groin area. (This can extend to using a gentle soap on your vulva if you feel it’s necessary, but definitely not in your vagina.) B.O. happens when the apocrine sweat glands in your armpits and groin produce a milky fluid that then mixes with bacteria on your skin, the Mayo Clinic explains. The sweat elsewhere on your body typically comes from eccrine glands and is odorless, so you can wash those spots with just water if you like, Dr. Piliang explains. Your feet are an exception to this rule, however, because they’ve probably been sweating and deprived of aeration all day (bacteria love this).
Another thing you want to limit or avoid is the use of physical exfoliators, Dr. Piliang says, whether they’re in body wash products or via loofahs and scrub brushes. These can be too harsh and possibly cause microscopic scratches in the outer layer of your skin. Plus, loofahs and the like tend to harbor bacteria.
Obviously, your mileage may vary here. You might have a gentle physical exfoliator you love, in which case, feel free to keep doing what you’re doing. But if you’re looking for a different method of sloughing off dead skin cells, Dr. Piliang suggests going for something like a body wash containing a chemical exfoliator, such as an AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid). (Definitely keep anything like this away from your vagina, though!)
Some skin conditions may require you to shower more or less often than the average person.
On the other hand, Dr. Piliang says, people with extremely dry or sensitive skin, or inflammatory skin conditions where the lipid barrier is already impaired—like psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea—might find daily showers too dehydrating and irritating. (Avoiding hot water and harsh cleansers is even more important in these scenarios.)
If you are dealing with any kind of skin condition, ask your dermatologist if it affects how often you should shower. Otherwise, it’s up to you to determine the sweet spot that will keep you clean without irritating your skin.